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Like most of you already know, there has been a lot going on about name giving for mutations. Certain group of people think that they have to change the existing names. Little has been found of this discussion in bird magazines, the new names are meanless and therefore confuses many people.

International communication is very important and we should all be connected on this issue of genetics. This group thought that the new names had to be in English but they forgot that a lot of breeders around the world are not familiar with the English language and many of the names do not make sense.

Some time ago I met Bob Fregeres who has his own view on this problem.

His name giving theory is based on a three fold system and that way it is different from the current system. He is aware that some breeders have no notion of genetics because they don’t care about genetics or they found it too difficult.

That’s the reason why I invite all of you to read his article carefully.

If you have questions you can always contact Bob Fregeres directly (fregeres@bourkes-parakeet.nl)

I hope you enjoy his article .


Didier Mervilde Didier.mervilde@telenet.be


Name giving of bird varieties, bridge between hobby and science
Bob Fregeres
Namegiving of bird varieties

Recently a lot of bird fanciers is talking about new names for varieties of bird species, but I found very little of this discussion in bird magazines. This is the reason that I wrote this article about name giving. In this article I will present my view and my own approach.

In my vision name giving can function as a bridge between the hobbyist and the scientist. Both of them have advantage of proper name giving. The hobbyist is breeding bird varieties, is developing new varieties sometimes, is discussing them in bird societies, is buying and selling at the marketplace. Many breeders are very interested in the genetic backgrounds of their hobby. The scientist want to reach the aim of finding parallel mutations in different bird species, classify them, and giving names to mutation factors in a systematic way. Both, the scientist and the hobbyist, have advantage by a proper identification and name giving of varieties.

Our hobby, keeping birds and breeding varieties seems to gain momentum. By domestication of bird species in the aviculture, a lot of mutations in several different bird species came into being. In the picture collection of N. Ingram :" Neophema mutations" I found about hundred different colour varieties in six Neophema species and the Bourke Parrot In the rich illustrated publication of T.Martin: " Colour mutations and genetics in Parrots" (2002) pictures are showed and varieties are listed of about four hundred varieties in about hundred different parrot species. If we count for the new varieties of tropical birds and a lot of European birds we speak about a great amount of colour varieties. Bird keeping and variety breeding became an international affair.

Breeders, who develop a new variety always try to give a proper name. Today breeders of bird species like Lovebirds, Zebra finches, Neophema, Indian Ringnecked Parrots etc. are trying to develop a more unequivocal name giving of varieties. This is an important development. Today a lot of new names appear. Often English names are used. In the discussions between bird breeders and in the meetings of Bird Societies a lot of questions did arise. What is a proper name? Why English names? What is wrong in using the mother language? Who is deciding about the name of a variety , the breeder who developed the variety, the researcher who studied the distortion of the colour production, the Technical board of the Bird Society? Which system of name giving should be chosen?

Common and scientific names

As a bird fancier, I am interested not only in the birds in my aviary, but in the free birds in my garden also. There is a Robin nesting in the shrubs in my backyard. The Robin is a friendly nice little bird. But not so friendly to other birds of the same species. A lot of fight is going on, along an invisible boundary in my garden. Just like people, I think, when I see this struggle of defending the own territory. But I want to say something about the name of the Robin. In Holland we name this bird "Roodborstje" (Red-chest) . This name does not fit as a precise colour description. The chest is not red but has a brownish-red colour. The rest of the plumage is light brown. In England it is called Robin. In America the same name Robin is used for a much bigger and lovely singing red fronted bird. This seems to be a difficult problem communication problem. But this is not insurmountable. When we consult Birds Guides we find immediately that this two Robins have different scientific names. The European Robin is named: Erithacus rubeacula. The American Robin is named: Turdus migratoris. He is family of the Blackbird. The name Robin is a common name, a colour name. This example tells something about the possibilities and restrictions of the use of common colour names.

Origin of common names

People were giving always names to birds in their own neighborhood. Most of the names were typifying the song, the behavior or the colour of the plumage. Names are given in the mother language and are used in the own region or country. Sometimes this kind of names is called local names. This counts for the name Robin, but also for the names of birds that are imported in our aviculture.

The Budgerigar can function as an example. The Budgerigar got different local names in the country of origin. The name Budgerigar has been derived from the Aboriginal name: Betcherrygah. Other local names for the same species are: Zebra Parrot, Shell Parrot, Grass-Parakeet. Also this species is named differently in different languages : Wellensittich (German) Grasparkiet (Dutch), Perruche ondulee (France), etc. The scientific name is: "Melopsittacus undulatus". In practice most of the breeders use common names, not the scientific names. But in publications, exhibitions etc. the scientific name is written next to the common name.

Origin of scientific names

The scientific name giving started in the eighteen century. There was a clear reason for it. In this time there were a lot of visits to foreign countries to explore the unknown flora and fauna. Stories, descriptions, drawings and bellows of foreign birds were coming to Europe. In the beginning scientists were using frequently different Latin names for the same species. This was very confusing. Linnaeus was one of the brightest scientists of the eighteen century. He was born as the son of a gardener in Sweden. He invented a new kind of name giving (1735). Every bird species got its own unique name. He used a double name giving system. The name of the species, in combination with the name of the genus to which the species belongs. A genus is a category of species with some shared characteristics. We call this scientific name giving system the binomial system (double name system).

The first Australian Parrot who was imported in Europe, is described by Linnaeus himself. It was the Rainbow Lorikeet. He got the scientific name: Trichoglossus haematodus (1771). In this way every bird species got an unique name by scientists who used the approach of Linnaeus. Every bird species was categorized in genera. The genera were categorized in families, families in orders, orders in classes. All bird species were categorized in the order Aves. In this way a hierarchic classification was build, based upon differences and similarities. Today about 9700 different bird species are known. All of them got a double scientific name. When a new species is discovered he gets a name in this way. These Latin names are useful in national and international communication.

The function of common names

When Linnaeus developed his system of scientific names he did not abandon the common names. And this was smart. Latin was the scientific language. Only the scientists had a thorough command of this language. What was counting for name giving of bird species in the past is counting today for name giving of bird varieties also. The English language took over this role from Latin. This is the reason for using the English language in scientific name giving . This does not mean that every hobbyist has to command the English language.

Common names of varieties fulfil a very important function in the communication of a region, country or language area. We cannot go without them in the communication between hobbyists, in bird societies, reading and writing articles in bird magazine, at exhibitions, in buying and selling birds at the market place. Sometimes this names are chosen to promote the new variety using an attractive name. I prefer good descriptive names, but I do realize that without a financial stimulus this hobby never was adopted by so many hobbyists. My conviction is that common names, names in the mother language, have their own merits and should keep their function in the future.

Characteristics of common names

My assumption is that the name giving of a new variety has much in common with the local name giving of bird species. Some of the shared characteristics are:

  1. Most names for varieties are colour names. The list of representative Budgerigar varieties (Taylor, 1961) contains thirty varieties. Twenty two varieties have a colour name. The remaining eight names are descriptions of the appearance of the variety: Pied, in three different varieties, Fallow , in two different varieties, Crested, Lacewing, and Clearwing. In other species we see the same trend. This counts also for a lot of names for species like Blackbird and Goldfinche.
  2. Sometimes the name of a variety refers to the colour of fruits: apple-green, apricot, or stone: slate, or semi-precious stones: jade and opal, or precious metals: gold and silver. We see the same in the common names of species: Golden Pheasant, Silver Pheasant.
  3. Sometimes different varieties became the same name. Example: Lutino. This is comparable with the same name Robin for different bird species.
  4. It is possible that a same variety gets a different name in different countries also. Example: Isabel and Cinnamon. This is comparable with different common names of the Budgerigar in different countries like "Wellensittich"
  5. The name is given in the mother language. Therefore a colour name is bound to a language, a country or a region and need translation for use in international communication.

My conclusion is that names given to varieties in the aviculture are comparable with common names for bird species.

New names like misty, dun, dilute and faded are introduced in Holland. My opinion is that such names should not push aside the Dutch names. I have some sound reasons for this: 1. This are descriptive names. Common names. Each name has a proper Dutch equivalent term. What is the profit when we use English common names? 2. This new names are all synonyms for bleaching of the plumage. Steiner used the term dilute to indicate that there was an equal reduction of melanin pigment in the whole plumage. The choice of terms like misty and faded seems to be accidental. The problem with this kind of names is, that they are covering a real problem: The question after the regulation of melanin pigment production.

The functions of scientific names

My assumption is that these common names for varieties are not appropriate names for scientific name giving. Scientific names should serve the reaching of scientific goals. Scientific names should be developed in a systematic way. When we use common names for scientific goals systematic development of name giving seems impossible. Scientific goals are: identification, classification, researching parallel mutations in different bird species. Scientific names should support communication, national and international. Scientific name giving has to meet demands we can not impose on colour names.

Problems of colour names

1. Comparing varieties with the same colour name in different bird species is difficult. When we compare the blue variety of the Princess of Wales (Polytelis alexandrae) with the blue variety of the Pale-headed Rosella ( Platycercus adscitus) we find differences in colour intensity and brightness. Also the distribution of the blue colour in the plumage is very different. The Pale-headed shows a lot of dull grey, alternating with dark blue. The Princess shows a light pastel sky blue. It is not surprising that this colour varieties are different because of the big differences between the bird species.

2. In the Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) and the Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) the same total loss of psittacine pigments did appear. Both varieties have the same mutation factor It is a parallel mutation. The colour variety of both species is very different. The common name for the variety of the Budgerigar is Blue. The common name for the variety of the Cockatiel is Blue or White-face. A blue variety is not possible because of the lack of blue structure in the feathers.

If we want to give the same name to the same variety we have to choose between blue or Whiteface. The Budgerigar has a white face too. But I never heard this proposal to give the Budgerigar the name White-face. What we choose for this variety in the Pale-headed Rosella? He has a white face also. If we choose the same colour name for the Cockatiel and the Budgerigar confusion is possible. It is confusing to speak about a blue mutation in the Cockatiel. He never will be blue. Nevertheless, this name Blue is chosen in the UNS as a scientific name for this variety.

Of course there is a reason behind this choice. Name giving of the varieties of the Budgerigar is used as a model for all parrot species. But the question has to be answered if this model is appropriate for the Cockatiel and other parrot species who have a different genetical make-up. This is an important question in name giving parrot varieties but fundamental if we try to research and name parallel varieties in bird species not belonging to the same order. Choosing for the Budgerigar as a model means restricting the method to the order Psitticaformes.

3. Is it possible to use a colour name as a scientific name? The same parallel mutation causing the total loss of psittacine pigments, we find in the Blue-winged Parrot (Neophema chrysostoma). The variety is called Blue Blue-winged. The first name Blue is used as an scientific name. The second name Blue is the common name of the species. Together they form the name of the variety. The first name is not meant as a colour name. The second name Blue is a colour name. Here a linguistic problem arises. Blue is in one case a colour in another case not a colour.

4. A variety of the Scarlet-chested is called Blue Scarlet-chested or White-fronted-Scarlet-chested. This is a combination of a scientific name and a common name. This combination is contradictory. Reading such a name someone asks himself what is meant, a bird with a blue, a red or a white chest. This habit of combining such colour names is really confusing.

Problems with other common names

There are also names who are not directly related to some colour, like Pied and Fallow. This names are not suited for unique scientific names, because there are more than one variety with the same name. In the Budgerigar three pied varieties are known. To discriminate them we speak about Dutch Pied, Australian Pied, and Danish Pied. Also was is needed to add the inheritance to the name, dominant or recessive. Dutch Pied and Australian Pied are both inheriting dominant. We know also more than one kind of Fallow. All this Fallows are inheriting recessive. To discriminate between them a new division was needed, Ashen, Dun, Bronze and Pale. This are colour names also.


Common names and scientific names fulfil different functions. Common colour names are not suited for scientific name giving of varieties of bird species. They cannot meet the demands to scientific names They are not developed systematically. They are not sufficient supporting the communication on the national and international level. Using colour names for scientific goals reintroduce all the problems of name giving of common names in the scientific name giving.

Remark: When colour names are not suited for reaching the scientific goals an alternative had to be found for naming varieties. I described an alternative trinomial system of name giving in my website.

Trinomial system of scientific name giving to bird varieties

For the naming of bird species a binomial system is used. For the naming of varieties of bird species a trinomial system can be used. For scientific naming and classification of varieties we have to develop a subdivision of the species, a new lower level in the hierarchy. It is possible to expand the binomial system to a trinomial system. This has been done before in scientific name giving for varieties of plants. For a proper identification of varieties of bird species we can use the scientific name of the species followed by the name that is typifying the variety. Together it forms a trinomial scientific name.

The trinomial system is expanding the binomial system. By adding a third (code) name to the binomial name it becomes a trinomial name. This system is useful for all scientific goals .

Example: Melopsittacus undulatus (M-d). Melopsittacus undulatus is the scientific name for the species, given by Shaw in 1805. One of the common names is: Budgerigar. The scientific name is followed by (M-d). The letter M is the abbreviation of Melanin. The letter d is the abbreviation of the English term: distribution. This forms the two-letter code for the mutation factor.

The common name is Opaline Budgerigar. This name referred originally to the opalescence colour of the variety, later on the name is used for the disappearance of part of the foreground melanin, a change of the characteristic undulation pattern of the Budgerigar. The code does not refers to the colour of the variety.

Explanation: The code (M-d) is explaining the cause of the altering of the colour of the plumage. There is a change in the melanin formation This change means that the distribution pattern of the melanin is altered. The name of the mutation factor is M-d. Distribution change (d) is an unique name. (M) means that this distribution change is classified in the category mutation factors of the Melanin formation

Identification: With this name: Melopsittacus undulatus (M-d) a complete identification of the variety is possible. A variety depends on all colouring elements of the species, the altered gene (the mutation factor) and the unaltered genes. The trinomial name combines the known unchanged colouring factors of a species and the mutated colouring factor of that species, forming the new genetical make-up.

Avoiding problems of colour names: I discussed the examples of "Blue mutations" in the Budgerigar, Cockatiel, Blue-winged Parrot and Scarlet-chested. They can be indicated by the binomial scientific name followed by the the code (P-t). The letter t means the total loss of psittacine pigments, P is he abbreviating of Psittacine. All the problems I discussed with colour names are gone in this system of name giving.

Combination names: It is also possible to name varieties with a combination of mutation factors. An example is Melopsittacus undulatus (M-d, P-t). The common name is blue opaline Budgerigar.

Classifying mutation factors: In parrot species about thirty different mutations took place. They can be divided in three categories. Mutations of the Melanin pigments, (M), mutations of the colour pigments red and yellow psittacine (P) and mutations of the feather structure (S). This means that about thirty different mutation factors are found and described in scientific reports.

Research: A recent example is the explanation of the total loss of eumelanin pigment in plumage, eyes, skin and horn parts. This mutation factor is inheriting recessive. Mutavi found the cause in the inactivity of the enzyme tyrosinase. Tyrosinase controls the black colouring of melanin granules. Colourless granules are formed and deposed in the feathers etc. but they don't influence the colouring. This mutation factor was named tyrosinase negative. My abbreviation is t-. The variety of the Elegant Parrot can be indicated as: Neophema elegance (M-t-). Common name: Recessive Lutino Elegant.The recessive inheriting Budgerigar can be indicated as: Melopsittacus undulatus (M-t-)

With this trinomial naming system all scientific goals are served. Identification is not impeded by the colour names, Classification of mutation factors is already part of the system. Parallel mutations in different bird species get the same code name. International and national communication is supported by the system. The common names do exist but no higher demands are supposed on that names. Local colour names in the mother language don't be abandoned. Each variety is identified by such a trinomial name because this name refers to the a changed genetical make-up of the species.

Questions: There are some critical questions to be answered about this alternative approach:

1. Is it an acceptable method to ad a third name to the double scientific name? It seems so. The trinomial system is known from 1850. In the nomenclature for plants this system is used. This system is accepted by scientists and hobbyists as well. This system seems to me to be very useful to naming varieties of bird species.

2. Is it a scientific method? Thus fare the name for the mutation factor of bird varieties is refers the appearance of the variety. This is the standard scientific approach used by the name giving of varieties of the Budgerigar in the handbook of Taylor and Warner "Genetics of the Budgerigar breeders" (1961) Also Martin:" Colour mutations and Genetics" (2002) is using this method.

If the change of the colour formation elements that is due to the new appearance is not known this method is the only possible solution of name giving. Quote: "When a gene is known only by the mutant phenotype, the gene is given the name and symbol of the first identified mutant" MGI publication "Rules for Nomenclature of genes." Jan. 2005.

3. The second scientific method is dependent of the state of science. In a lot of varieties the real cause is known. I give an historical and an actual example: Duncker supposed that the olive colour variety of the Budgerigar was caused by a peculiar pigment. Steiner (1932) proved with the outcome of his research about feather structure that the real cause was found in the change of the keratin channels of the sponge layer of the blue structure of the feather. Mutavi (2000) studied the activity of the tyrosinase and found that the inactivity of this enzym was the reason for colorless eumelanin granules. When this mutation appeared in the Budgerigar a lutino colour variety of the Budgerigar was the result. This colour variety inherits recessive.

This are only a few examples. The scientific method of deriving the name for the mutation factor from the altered functioning of the gene, that controls the pigment- and structure formation, gives a lot of extras and is not causing problems we have to count with in the first scientific method. This kind of name giving gives more information to the user. The name giving refers to the scientific research on which the name is based. This will be an important help for spreading of knowledge. This alternative method has a lot of advantages and avoid the problems of the colour names.

Avantages of the trinomial method

01. Identification. The trinomial name is an unique name for the variety. This name refers to the cause of the colour change of the variety and is based upon research findings. There is a lot of knowledge about the formation processes of formation of the melanins and feather structure. In many cases the specific cause of the change or distortion of the formation process. A lot is known about the carotenoid pigments. Less is known about the psittacine pigments. But there is a provisional solution. When the exact cause is not discovered yet the name can be derived from the effect of the colour formation change. Total loss of pigment, etc. This system of name giving can be used for every bird species.

02. Classification. The same mutation factor in different bird species gets the same name. Because the name is referring to the altered function of a gene, and not taken from the colour of the variety, classification of the mutation factors is possible. I used in my website a revised classification system from Steiner.

03. Explanation. The name of the factor can be short. Inheritance, origin, and other data can be left out. The name refers to research results and data bases. In this way scientific knowledge is available for breeders, who are interested in colour formation processes and genetic backgrounds.

04. International communication is guaranteed .Names of mutation factor are derived from scientific research. Research papers are published in English. The Latin name for the species is followed by an English name of the mutation factor. It is technical English.

05. Colour names are not abandoned. Just as in the binomial system the local names are used next to the scientific names. Local names fulfill an important role within the communication in the mother language. There will be no translation problem. Using uniform English names is not needed because the common name is no longer the most important identifier of the variety. Breeders who does not speak the English language are not set aside Only for scientific identification and classification the technical English name is used.

06. Restricting the name giving to a given order or family of birds (like Psitticaformes) is not needed. The name giving can be used for all varieties in all bird species. In the introduction of new kind of varieties in new bird species, the factor can be classified in a new category if needed .

07. New name giving should be treated as an innovation process. This approach can encourage fast adoption. A colour name is not suited for scientific aims like identification and classification. The colour names are not abandoned. They are used for local communication. Implementation of scientific names is easy because it is an extending of a n accepted and known system. The use of explanatory names are a resource for breeders and is serving the dissemination of scientific knowledge. In this way a bridge is build between practice and research between hobbyist and scientist.

08. The use of colour names is conform their meaning. There are no semantic problems. This problem is unique for bird species, because the common name of the species and the common name of the varieties are often both colour names

09. The use of this approach is dependent on the results of research. I think that a good start can be made because there is a lot of knowledge about formation of melanin pigments and feather structure. The knowledge of psittacin pigments is not complete. But there is also a lot of knowledge about carotenoid pigments

10. The scientific name of the mutation factor is placed in parenthesis behind the binomial name. I made a first draft of naming all mutation factors in this way. This was a try out to see if the method was applicable to the name giving of mutation factors.

Summary: The approach to scientific name giving of bird varieties is based upon a trinomial system. The identity of the variety is specified by the binomial name of the species followed by the scientific name of the mutation factor. This forms a scientific trinomial name. By this name the changed genetical make-up of the variety is known. The name of the mutation factor refers to the change of the function of the gene, not to the change of the appearance. The name is based upon research finding, can be classified and used for naming parallel mutations. This approach is suited for all varieties of all bird species, irrespective the different possession of colouring genes of the bird species.

Postscript: This paper is aimed as a contribution to the discussion about name giving. Essential in my vision is the acceptance of the fact that name giving can have a different meaning for the hobbyist and the scientist. The contrast between common names and scientific names is important because of the different function of names in practice and in scientific research. Common names fulfil an important role in practice. Scientific names are very important to reach scientific goals, like parallel mutations, categorisation international communication, etc. For the scientist can be very rewarding that the outcome of research about pigment- and structure formation processes can be used for scientific name giving .The trinomial system makes greater demands of scientific name giving. The scientific name can be a resource of knowledge for the hobbyist also. The name refers to research papers and data bases. In this way scientific name giving using the trinomial system can fulfil a function in the application of knowledge in practice.

The trinomial name giving can function as a bridge between practice and science. Scientific name giving that serves a proper identification of varieties, international communication and application of knowledge is the meeting point.

Remark: This article is based upon some pages in my web site: http://www.bourkes-parakeet.nl This pages are: Account, Classification M factors, Classification P and S factors. Reactions are very welcome. My E-mail address is: fregeres@bourkes-parakeet.nl.


J.M. Forshaw :Australian Parrots(1972)

T. Martin: Colour mutations and Genetics in Parrots (2002)

H.Steiner: Vererbungsstudien am Wellensittich (1935)

T.G.Taylor and C. Warner, Genetics for Budgerigar Breeders (1961)

Publications of the MGI: Mause genome informatics (2002)

Internationale Code for the nomenclature of cultivated plants(1953)

Copyright 2005 by Bob Fregeres


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Didier Mervilde 2000/2001/2002/2003/2004
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